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The Marvels ★★★★



Director: Nia DaCosta

Cast: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Lewis, Park Seo-Joon, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapoor & Saagar Shaikh, 

Release: 10th November 2023

A lot can change in a short space of time, or in the case of Marvel Studios, it has been an eventful week! 

Without delving too deeply into Variety’s article, there are genuine criticisms of the MCU in its current direction to which no studio or company is above – no matter how much entertainment and joy they’ve brought audiences. Treatment of VFX staff and the insane working practices, zero writers’ room, too many commissioned projects and not enough quality control, ballooning budgets (aftermath from the pandemic), schedule changes, reshoots, actor troubles, and strike action have weighed down the studio. But nestled within the valid critiques and red flags was the unfair accusation labelled towards director Nia DaCosta for not being involved in the post-production of The Marvels despite working remotely to complete it whilst being committed to other projects. 

In an already-male-dominated arena, it feeds into a hostile narrative for female filmmakers (especially for DaCosta being the first Black female director in the MCU) where a litany of excuses are made to sum up why their films are automatic failures – things that their male counterparts don’t have to endure (Spielberg famously worked on Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park back to back and no-one batted an eyelid). In the case of The Marvels – the story of three female empowered superheroes who don’t conform to standards and expectations set by the world around them – the lack of faith, commitment and the pre-judgement status of ‘dead on arrival’ added fuel to the fire. Well, anyone who doubted the film’s quality owes Nia DaCosta an apology.

To put it simply, The Marvels is pure, energetic fun, the kind of fun that revels in its ‘popcorn flick’ stature and has a delightful time doing so. And in comparison to 2019’s Captain Marvel movie, it’s a massive step up in terms of style, direction and chemistry with its three outstanding leading stars Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani – all accomplished in a very breezy and satisfying runtime.

It has a great 80s energy that radiates throughout, from its Drew Struzan-inspired poster to the teleporting, switcheroo antics and hijinks that brought back memories of Brian Gilbert’s Vice Versa or Penny Marshall’s Big. It’s unapologetic in that respect, wasting no time getting right into the thick of the action from the get-go. 

We’re quickly thrown into the events where Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) investigate a jump point anomaly in space triggered by Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who discovers one-half of the quantum band bracelet. With plans to restore the Kree homeworld of Hala to its former glory by stealing the natural resources from other planets, she seeks the other half of the bracelet to complete her mission – which the hero of New Jersey in Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) possesses. In coming into contact with the jump point, Carol, Monica and Kamala’s powers become entangled, forcing the trio to work together to get to the bottom of the mystery and save the universe. 

Perhaps the strongest takeaway from The Marvels is that it has its own identity and purpose. Unlike the first Captain Marvel movie, where the lack of visual experience was telling for directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (through no fault of their own), DaCosta – a lifelong Marvel fan – stamps her authority to give The Marvels its vibrancy and energy. The action scenes are punchier, with clever inventiveness in how everything is staged and framed. The camera, no longer static, DaCosta neatly combines split screens, scale and depth that intentionally rolls with the action.

For a relatively simple story, the script has flaws, and occasionally, a tendency to rush through key moments stops it from reaching its full potential. For instance, it could have fleshed out more of its villain arc with Dar-Benn – a Kree leader who rose to power in the vacuum following Ronan’s rule (Lee Pace) and Kree civil war who now has vengeance in her heart after Captain Marvel destroyed the Supreme Intelligence. Despite Ashton’s best efforts, she is never provided ample material to escape a one-dimensional performance. The film’s handling of refugees, destabilisation and accountability could have been taken up a notch as Carol wrestles with these moral choices, reflective of a wider tendency within the MCU to ‘look the other way’ when it comes to tackling sensitive issues head-on in favour of setting up the next episodic adventure (e.g. Black Widow or the ending of WandaVision). Additionally, Carol and Monica have a long, shared history, and their reunion – one rooted in fear, abandonment, and loss – deserves more scenes to explore. When you think about her debut film, Little Woods, DaCosta is naturally good at this but is chalked up as a missed opportunity. 

Ultimately, the script mayhem stems from DaCosta, Meghan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik – the female writing trio in the film – taking more ambitious swings in this fast-paced, big canvas storyline. Summed up by the film’s needle drop use of The Beastie Boys Intergalactic, they take us to other worlds, other cultures and more Flerken action that you can point a laser pen at. It even includes the water planet called Aladna, where singing is their main language and can only be described as space Disneyland. But as the action zips back and forth between its leading ladies and their entangled powers, where the script works in its favour comes through its unique positioning. DaCosta pieces together three different characters and their backstories (two of which make their big-screen debuts from WandaVision and Ms. Marvel, respectively) and keeps things simple. The added pressure, as most fans would feel, knowing they may need prior knowledge to understand everything, is not required. As a standalone, it serves its purpose.

The chemistry between Larson, Parris and Vellani seals the deal. In this superhero team-up, so much about the film is about synchronicity. Even when scenes descend into absurdity, Larson, Parris, and Vellani’s connection keeps the film grounded. It’s instantly recognisable they were all having a great time on set.

But also, The Marvels understands something that has been a long time coming – Kamala Khan is the future of the MCU. In taking the best elements from Ms. Marvel (including Kamala’s family), DaCosta gives Kamala that stepping stone into the wider universe. Vellani’s performance displays her unbridled enthusiasm and golden comic timing in spades. That infectious love of superheroes and fan fiction is brilliantly channelled throughout, including a scene-stealing opener which combines her creativity and the film’s use of animation.

As an enjoyable entry into the MCU, The Marvels proudly celebrates being unapologetically wild and funny. With plenty of surprises and talking points, there’s a slice of optimism about its future. It’s too early to say how everything recalibrates after an up-and-down year for the studio. But one thing is for sure: seeing Danvers, Rambeau and Khan together on screen was a visual treat. 

Higher, further, faster, baby? You betcha.

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